BEIRUT: The Lebanese judiciary has jurisdiction to rule on the issue of false witnesses and decide whether they should be put on trial prior to or following the release of the UN-backed tribunal’s upcoming indictment, a report by the Justice Ministry said.
The report, drafted by Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar, is to be discussed during the Cabinet’s session on Tuesday as ministers loyal to Speaker Nabih Berri continue to threaten to suspend their participation in the government if the issue of false witnesses is not tackled.
In anticipation of deliberations over Najjar’s report, Future Movement MP Ammar Houri said Sunday that false witnesses could only be put on trial after the indictment is released so as to protect the identity of witnesses who are to testify before the court.
Hizbullah officials continue to discredit any indictment that is not preceded by the investigation of false witnesses. Tuesday’s session is expected to witness heated debate over the issue.
Berri was quoted by the Saudi daily Ash-Sharq al-Awsat on Sunday as saying that his decision to suspend the participation of Amal Movement ministers in the Cabinet was not a maneuver but a serious decision if the issue of false witnesses is not “seriously discussed” by the government.
The speaker added that his move was a preemptive step in anticipation of “irreversible damage that could not be corrected” if the issue of false witnesses continues to stir conflict on the Lebanese scene.
Berri said he expected that the logical next step would be for the country’s Justice Council to take action concerning false witnesses since the council has the authority to look into issues that raise tensions and national divisions.
But Najjar’s report said the council lacks jurisdiction to look into the issue since its role “is restricted to crimes committed against state security, spying activities, murders that relates to international law and undermining the state’s authority.”
Najjar did not rule out the possibility that judicial authorities other than the Justice Council could investigate the matter.
But Houri insisted that it would be impossible to investigate false witnesses prior to the STL’s indictment, “because this will prevent any witness who knows anything from testifying out of fear that his testimony is published or his identity is revealed before those who committed the crime.”
“Also, the testimonies and documents are held by the STL and a case cannot be opened without these documents, which will force the Lebanese judiciary to request these documents from the STL for and await a reply,” Houri said.
Last week, the UN’s Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs Patricia Brian requested that STL refrain from disclosing or giving access to any UN documents without prior authorization of the UN.
“The debate in the Cabinet session will focus on preventing taking measures against false witnesses prior to the indictment and the illegitimacy of the Justice Council to look into the issue,” Houri added. “The transfer of the case to the Justice Council is illegal because the terms stipulated in the law do not apply on false witnesses.”
“Any decision issued by any party that fails to take into consideration the issue of false witnesses who misled investigations [into the Hariri murder] is far from seeking justice and truth but rather is aimed against Lebanon and the Lebanese,” Liberation and Development bloc MP Qassem Hashem said.